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Highest Paying and Lowest Paying College Degrees in 2010

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Although I can honestly say I enjoyed my college experience, I regret my choice of major: music education. I began teaching myself the piano when I was a little girl and I started formal piano lessons in elementary school. In the seventh grade, I joined the school band so I could learn how to play the flute. I stayed in the band throughout high school and college and I never looked back. I loved being in the marching band and I loved my band directors, and for those reasons I decided that I wanted to be one, too.

Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

I’ve run into a few of my college classmates and stayed in touch with a couple others thanks to email and Facebook, but most of the music ed majors I knew in college no longer teach or never even started to teach. Those that do seem to complain about the long hours and low paychecks that goes along with the job. I knew about all of that back when I was in college, but I somehow fooled myself into thinking that $30,000 a year—which was the starting salary for teachers in my area when I graduated—was decent money.

CBS Money Watch contributor Lynn O’Shaugnessy recently featured two interesting posts on her blog, The College Solution. On July 26, 2010 she discussed the Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010 and her topic on July 28, 2010 was the 20 Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2010.

Highest Paying College Degrees in 2010

According to Lynn and the salary information company PayScale,Inc., the ten college majors that have the highest earning potential in 2010 are:

  • Petroleum engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Applied mathematics
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Physics
  • Computer engineering
  • Economics

Lowest Paying College Degrees in 2010

Again, according to Lynn and Payscale, the ten college majors with the worst earning potential in 2010 are:

  • Child and family studies
  • Elementary education
  • Social work
  • Athletic training
  • Culinary arts
  • Horticulture
  • Paralegal studies/law
  • Theology
  • Recreation & leisure
  • Special education

Earning Potential

Based on these lists and other information I read online, it appears that people with engineering degrees have the potential to earn quite a bit of money, while people who work with children or the arts are going to make considerably less.

I think that the financial website WalletPop put it best: “Your education is an investment. So, like any investment, you should do your research if you want to cash in.”

Enjoy Your Job or Enjoy the Money?

All too often, people decide on college majors based on the amount of money they assume they will make after graduation. (I wish I had made that “mistake.”) While it’s true that certain careers do pay considerably better than others, a Bachelor’s degree does not guarantee a job. Some employers would prefer you to have a Master’s degree, and it may take several years to work your way up from an entry-level job with an entry-level salary.

If possible, decide on a career that you will enjoy and is one that pays enough to live comfortably. Most people are not millionaires, but most people do not go to college in order to earn $30,000 per year. I think that deep down my parents are disappointed in the fact that I do not work in music education, but I wish they had urged me to consider my options before deciding on such a low-paying college major.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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